I suppose there have been academic attempts to identify all the places mentioned in the Odyssey by Homer, specially after Heinrich Schliemann found Troy.

I would like to know if there's any kind of consensus about the route Odysseus took. I've found some random images in Google (Image 1, Image 2) but they differ quite a bit.

I remember watching a TV doc many years ago putting in doubt that modern Ithaca was the Homeric one, so not sure if this is possible without discussion (and against the rules).

TV doc was probably based on Odysseus Unbound.


1 Answer 1


Most of the "new identifications" are quite fanciful. Most scholars agree that by and large the places described in the Odyssey are imagined. Ogygia, for example, is squarely within the realm of myth. No sailor could expect to actually sail to the Phaiakians.

Even with places like Ithaca, which were identified even in antiquity, we have to remember that poets did not do research on what the places looked like, nor could they. They relied on memory, sometimes their own, sometimes from oral tradition, and mistakes creep in. Nothing will match exactly. And why should it? It's a story, not actual history. The events it purports to describe take place hundreds of years before it was actually written down, and it will be another hundred years before the ancients tried identifying.

And identify they did! Once Homer took on a canonical status in Greek society, and after the Greeks started truly mapping the Mediterranean, some of them attempted to see Odysseus' purely mythical lands (like the island of the Cyclopes) as real life places. The Cyclopes' island became Sicily, Scylla and Charybdis became the Straits of Messine, because Italy and Sicily were so close together.

Thing is, Homer probably had neither in mind. Homer likely lived in a time when these places were just getting settled. If anything, Homer is hearing about these far-off non-Greek lands where the natives might not be the friendliest. But to think he actually knew of any specific place is ludicrous in the extreme.

To summarize (from Heubeck, West, & Hainsworth's excellent three-volume commentary):

Odysseus passes beyond the limits of reality after the storm off Cape Malea and finds himself in a sphere where heroic and human standards fail utterly. Beyond this frontier, which is fortunately impassable for most mortals, there are still seas, lands, and islands, and the points of the compass still apply, but in this different world there exist beings and forms that cannot be comprehended by the human mind. It is a fantastic and imaginary world, irrational and unreal, a realm of magic and sorcery which bears no relation to human experience, a world (we should particularly note) that was shunned by the early Greek epic and more recently by the poet of the Iliad himself.

Even in the mortal realm, the Odyssey is unfamiliar, it seems, with the Peloponnesus.

I won't bore you with the details, but if you do end up tracking down Heubeck/West/Hainsworth, section II of the introduction of the Commentary (not to be confused with the General Introduction) lays it all out.

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